That does, actually, seem like rather a big deal. “Does he have a bad temper? He’s not hitting you, is he?”
Wendy laughs. “Oh sheesh, no. Don’t worry; you’re safe. The kids, on the other hand . . .”
“He hits the kids?” I ask.
“No! Lord, what do you think of us?” she asks. “No, he’s never once laid an angry hand on any of us. All I mean is, the kids are home alone with him, and he had a big bachelor weekend that went for two straight days. Savion Glover is probably giving a live concert in his skull right now while the kids run amok. You’ve got to go back there, or I do.” She pauses to have a think. “Which would make more sense? Can it be you? I am really into Hugh giving me—or you—the day off. And if the neighbor lady came over to care for them, they’d just be confused.”
I shake my head. “Your kids are fine. I wouldn’t leave kids alone and untended in the house. I got Seth up, pretended everything was normal, and sent him downstairs to make the kids breakfast.”
Wendy sits up from the bath and cranes her head to look at me. She looks nothing short of astonished. “And did he?”
I frown. “No. I mean, he went downstairs and then came back up and said he couldn’t find the toast and tried to get back into bed.”
Wendy just laughs sadly. “Sounds about right. The kids won’t eat his toast anyway. They say his toasting makes the bread too crunchy.”
I just have to laugh too. “What does that even mean? Where do they come up with this stuff?”
“Well, either way, thanks for feeding my kids,” says Wendy.
“Oh, I didn’t,” I tell her. “I put a cold, wet towel on Seth’s face and told him I had no idea where the bread was and he should probably ask the kids for help, because I was coming over here to have a cup of coffee with you.”
Wendy’s eyes get large. “Was he surprised at that, at least?”
“He said he had no idea anyone had moved into this house.”
Wendy sighs. “Oh my god, Celeste. I just went insane, my neighbor stole my body, my kids cannot get themselves a piece of bread without help, and my husband is completely freaking oblivious to his surroundings.”
“I have to agree with you there. We’ve been here for ten months now. And how does he not know where you keep the bread?”
“It’s not great. But at least he doesn’t have back hair,” she says.
“Hugh doesn’t have back hair!” I exclaim.
“When was the last time you saw him with his shirt off?” she asks me.
I cross my arms. “Two nights ago, not that it’s any of your business.”
“Ok, when was the last time you saw him from behind with his shirt off?”
She has me there. I shake my head.
“Boring sex life, eh?” she asks, as she steps my body out of the bath and wraps up in my Egyptian cotton bath sheet.
“Don’t pretend this”—I waggle my hands between us—“this psychological glitch or whatever it is opens me up to discussing intimate matters. It does not. We are not”—I stop myself before I say the word friends. It would seem mean, somehow, to proclaim that we’re not, though she has to realize. Sangria contests and carpool standoffs aren’t exactly the stuff of soul connection—“that close. Besides,” I add, recovering, “I can think of absolutely no conjugal position in which I would be facing my husband’s back.”
“Course you can’t,” she says. “You know what they say about Yanks in bed.”
I sniff. “You realize you’re the Yankee now, right? How does that feel?”
She pads toward me in her bare wet feet. “It feels smug and superior, actually.” She puts on an exaggerated accent straight from Forrest Gump. “Y’all know whut? Maykes me sound rell smarht.” She drops the accent. “When I go to work tomorrow, I’m going to call up Boston College and see if I can’t get them interested in our new productivity study. Maybe they’ll say yes to this voice.”
“You’re not going to work, though, are you? Not if things don’t get better.”
“What do you mean?” she asks. I just look at her until she says, “Oh. Right. Shit! You can’t be going to work for me!”
I exhale. Finally the gravity of this situation is setting in. “We could just talk to our families. Try to explain things. Swap for a bit, until this”—I look heavenward—“mutual hallucination is over.”
She looks at me for a long time and then just shakes her head.
“They’d lock us away in the loony bin,” I agree. “I’m about to lock myself in the loony bin.”
Wendy inhales deeply. “Let’s just give it one day. One day, and then we can go to the doctor,” she tells me.
“Wendy, tell me the truth. Are you just saying this because you want a whole day off from your husband and kids?”
“Course not!” she exclaims. “Not at all. I love my family. Now, it’s true I’ve never been told to stay in bed on a Sunday morning before. It’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”
I put my head in my hands. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I don’t want to be Wendy Charles. I don’t want to walk around like I invented being busy and everyone else should be grateful for whatever it is I do. And I really don’t want to sleep in her husband’s bed!
Another penny drops. I really, really don’t want thin, lithe, sexual-position-expert Wendy Charles sleeping in the same bed as my husband.
I mean, for this one little second, I am thin, lithe, sexual-position-expert Wendy Charles. I sneak a peek of my current body. I’m ridiculously fit. I have abdominal muscles. My small breasts are pointing upward, and I didn’t even put on a bra. Now, I love Hugh, and I don’t mean to forget it, but right now I look freaking great, and my back doesn’t hurt. Tomorrow, if this keeps up, I’ll put on pretty work clothes and go into the city and talk to adults all day. For lunch I’ll get a nice fresh green salad and a chunk of grilled salmon on top from the public market and eat it in total peace. And both of Wendy’s kids—she only has two, blessed be—are past the age of pull-ups and independent and spend the entire day in someone else’s care. Just this once, I could see how the other half—ok, the other 75 percent—lives.
“Ok,” I say. “You’re right. No need to panic. Let’s give it a couple days.”
Wendy arches her eyebrow. “One day’s enough.”
“One day, then,” I say, but now I’m thinking I’m getting the better end of this deal. I wonder what Wendy will say when Joy makes her lunchtime appearance today or crawls into her bed at two in the morning and takes up an impossible amount of mattress. What about when Zoey asks if she’s got her schedule sorted out for the week? Or Samuel falls asleep on the floor of his bedroom and she has to figure out how to get his sixty-five-pound body into bed using only my weary, sleep-deprived body?
What about when Hugh tries to smother her to death when, after sixteen seconds of spooning, he rolls over and falls asleep on her?
“A day or two,” I try to sneak in. “Now, to be clear, there should be no touching the husbands.” Wendy’s husband may be a hot artist, but there is no way I want Wendy’s hands, in any form, on my sweet, unsuspecting Hugh.
Wendy looks at me like I’m crazy. “Oh, that will not be an issue for me. You’re the one who needs to keep your—well, my, I guess—panties on. I mean, no offense, but look at Hugh. And now look at Seth.”
I grimace. How on earth could one not take offense at that? But I decide to willfully misunderstand. “Exactly. Your husband is safe in my hands; I can promise you that.”
“And the kids?”
“What on earth do you think I’m going to do to your kids?” I ask, offended even further now.
She rolls her eyes. “Tell them anything. I just don’t want you to tell them. They do not need to know what’s going on.”
“Oh,” I say, embarrassed. “Right, ok. No telling the kids.”
“And if you do go to work as me,” she says, “you have to be cool. You have to not be . . .” She wiggles her hands in place of finishing the sentence. “Just try to act like me.”
“Uptight and unreasonable?” I ask.
“Like an adult, professional woman. Don’t bring in any healthy recipes or Pinterest projects, ok?”
“Is that what you think of me?” I ask her.
She gestures to the homemade gallery wall on the east side of my bedroom, where all the frames are made with shells from different beaches we’ve visited as a family.
“Fine,” I say. “No crafting at work. I will try to act exactly like you. And you can try to act exactly like me. It will be good for you.”
“Shall we shake on it?” she says.
Of course I shake. “Text me later with your schedule so I know where I’m supposed to be tomorrow, ok? If we don’t . . . I mean . . . if we’re still hallucinating?”
“Fine,” she says. “We won’t be, but fine. Good luck with everything today.” She looks, even in my body, a little maniacal. “If you need me, I’ll be sitting on the front lawn with a glass of red wine in my hands.”
“That’s mighty thoughtful of you,” I say, laying Wendy’s natural drawl on thick. “But I’m sure I can handle your life just fine.”